By any measure, the 152nd Ag Fair was a success
Photo by Ralph Stewart
The 152nd annual M.V. Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair ended Sunday evening after four days packed with whirling rides, friendly competitions, animals, treats, music, friends, and good old-fashioned fun. Fair Manager Eleanor Neubert proclaimed the event a grand success, thanks in part to remarkably cooperative Fair weather. Sun was bright, temperatures moderate, and days were dry until a light rain began at closing time.
With 30,360 paid admissions, attendance was approximately 1,500 higher than 2012. There were more competitions than ever, and demonstrations, games, exhibits, entertainment and Fair food for which many wait all year. As every year, the Fair was the place to catch up with friends and neighbors after the hectic summer.
All roads lead to the Fair, despite the presence of detour signs erected to maintain security at the Chilmark location where President Barack Obama and his family were vacationing. When organizers realized a detour sign on State Road directing traffic to take North Road could confuse Fairgoers, they sought and received permission from the state to erect their own hand-lettered signs: "Road to the Fair is Open."
Neither detour signs nor the presidential presence deterred Fairgoers. Parking lots were filled, vendors busy, rides spinning. Competitions and demonstrations drew enthusiastic participants and cheering onlookers. "Steady" was the word used most often to describe business and attendance.
Crowds were consistent all four days and Friday evening, when the Fair sometimes has been impacted by competition from the Oak Bluffs Fireworks, was unusually busy. Ms. Neubert credited the discount price ride bracelet offered Friday evening by Cushing Amusements.
"And locals like to come when it's not so crowded so they can eat dinner and socialize with their friends," she added.
The only impact that the Obamas had on the Fair was the frequently asked question of whether they might make an appearance, according to Ms. Neubert. Obama daughters Sasha and Malia visited the Fair on two past years, but neither they nor their parents came this time.
Increased security measures were in place, as has been the practice at other large Island events as a result of the Boston Marathon bombings. Ms. Neubert said that local emergency personnel met with Ag Society trustees and Fair organizers and developed the plan for additional security.
"It was unobtrusive," said Ms. Neubert. No incidents or threats were reported.
New and different
Plenty of new features highlighted this year's Fair. The Zipper was the ride of choice for heart-pounding thrills. The Bungee, though less frightening, offered lots of climbing and flying fun.
When asked if she loved the Zipper ride she had looked forward to all week, Kayla deBettencourt, 9, nodded "Yes!" Did she want to ride again? "Maybe," she said.
"Last night she said 'No way," laughed her stepfather, Marcus Rivers.
Booth newcomers included chef Josh Aronie whose steak or chicken tacos were an instant hit, and Antone Dias and staff of Eclipse Massage who provided rejuvenating chair massages. Nancy Shai was kept very busy applying henna tattoos and other body art. April Knight branched out from her apple-caramel cake with chocolate torte, salads, and a well-received gluten-free cookie dessert.
Saturday afternoon Sack Races organized by Nancy-Alyce Abbot gathered a crowd of youngsters ages 6 through 10 who climbed into striped sacks and giggled and bounced towards a finish line.
Though drawing only two teams, the new Tug-o-War Saturday made up for low numbers with high excitement. The Morning Glory Farm team won two out of three heats against M. V. Ag Fair competitors. Organizer Eve Heyman thanked participants and emcee Zeke Wilkins who kept spirits high.
The kids' Corn Husking Contest saw more than 20 youngsters from 6 to 12 lined up to husk as fast as possible. Karen Ogden's Vegetable Car Races drew crowds to play and watch. Both contests began three years ago and keep growing.
A comment book instituted by Hall Manager Kathy Lobb gathered rave reviews. "Another wonderful Fair. Thanks for the memories," one family wrote.
Buddy the Clown rambled the Fairgrounds Saturday and Sunday in his bright green clownmobile, leaving behind bubbles, balloon animals, and giggling children.
"There are lots of balloon creatures floating all around the Fair," laughed Ms. Neubert.
Newest feature at this 152nd Fair and just right for its "Hog Wild for the Fair" theme were 10 baby piglets born to a Nip 'n' Tuck Farm sow Thursday night. Barn staff discovered the tiny piglets, no bigger than newborn puppies, suckling happily Friday morning. The babies were instant celebrities.
Favorite foods had Fairgoers devouring loaded cheeseburgers, meatball subs, fries, ribs, lobster rolls, corn, smoothies, fried dough, tempura, and much more. The Charter School raised money with a rare healthy option: salad wraps.
"It's not fine dining, but I love it," said one ecstatic Fair foodie. "Eating all the things I shouldn't to eat. Pizza, hamburgers, and I think I'll take some ribs home!"
On Sunday the Fair Ladies awarded Local Smoke the year's Best Food Booth ribbon. Operated by Tim Laursen and Everett Whiting, the booth serves Island-grown pork, chicken, and salads.
At Island Trading Co. they delighted Jim Brooks with a blue ribbon for the Best Non-Food Booth. Mr. Brooks has sold hats and accessories at the Fair since 1977.
Lots to see and do
Stage acts fitting every musical taste included Entrain, the Day Trippers, Johnny Hoy, the Stragglers, Serendipity, and other locals. The Kelly Peters Dancers wowed audiences and children loved the wacky antics of Toe Jam and Puppetoke. Out and about were The Vineyard Sound and the Blue Hill Brass Quartet while Nancy Jephcote and other non-electrified musicians performed by the bleachers.
With a total of 3,574 entries, slightly fewer than in 2012, the Ag Hall brimmed with produce and flowers, artwork, photos, crafts, and special exhibits. Vegetable and flower entries were fewer than usual.
"It was a funny growing year," said Ms. Lobb, citing the cold spring planting season, June rains, and July heat wave.
Nonetheless, determined gardeners filled the shelves with lush tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplants, and flowers. Legendary farmer Paul Jackson of Edgartown heaped a wheelbarrow with organic produce.
Simon Hickman's "Grim Reaper," crafted of metal, oak and rosewood, was striking, as was Chas Deary's intricately patterned wooden kayak. The M.V. Bonsai Club showed captivating miniature trees from conifers to delicately leafed tropicals.
The Seward family's sixties memorabilia included Mooncusser Coffeehouse posters; there was a history of Island dairy farming. The Oak Bluffs Library's prizewinner showed "The Second Life of Books."
Breads and pastries filled cabinets and a new glass cooler displayed homemade butter and cheese.
Junior art and handicrafts at 507 and 325 represented the largest number of Hall entries and the most imaginative. Crafts ran the gamut of ideas and artwork showed impressive talent.
Adults showed extensive art, photos, handicrafts and needlework. The quality and quantity lead one visitor to wonder how people could find the time for such expert, painstaking work in today's busy world.
Ms. Lobb said the spirit of friendly competition is high, and some exhibitors set prize-winning goals for themselves each year. Some are determined to outdo a friend, which keeps enthusiasm strong.
Agriculture remains the real basis for this Fair, especially evident in the livestock judging and competitions. Many Fairgoers won't miss the Draft Horse Pull, a popular Friday event. The Thursday Ox Pull is another favorite. On Saturday the 37th Annual Woodsman's Contest filled the air with the sounds of chainsaws, axes, and cheering onlookers.
Sunday featured the popular Dog Show and Island Draft Horse Show. The afternoon concluded with the Women's Skillet Throw. A noisy crowd cheered on the spirited contestants, gasping when long distances were announced. Kara Shemeth's impressive 54' 5" throw won her first place.
The Fiber Tent buzzed with activity from spinning, weaving, felting and dyeing demos to informative exhibits and spinning and chopstick knitting contests. Fascinated children admired fluffy alpacas, sheep, a plump angora bunny, and received free yarn bracelets.
The Animal Barn offered a respite from midway noise and bustle. Although the newborn piglets were stars, the birds, bunnies, goats, sheep, cows and horses delighted visitors. Animals seemed as curious about the humans as the humans were about them. Outside, children got to climb atop docile draft horses. There were shearing demonstrations, goats were milked, and Mike Piazza's border collies leapt after flying Frisbees.